Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Where's the Fire?

U.S. National Grid (USNG) advocate Al Studt is back at it with another one of his "learn by example" approaches to the U.S. National Grid. Consequently, I won't waste words, when you can see for yourself:

(Al Studt, April 29, 2014)

Comment: Want more interesting USNG stuff and examples? Stop by and check out Al's Twitter account here: You'll be glad you did!

Graphic credit: Al Studt

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Google Street View Now Travels Through Time

Google Maps recently added a feature for anyone who has dreamed about being able to travel through time. When in the Street View mode, clicking the tiny clock in the inset in the upper left hand corner of the screen opens up views of the active location that go back to 2007. More below:

(CBS News, April 24, 2014)

Comment: Simple start to what could one day be a great investigative tool for several parts of the Emergency Services Sector. Unfortunately, following close behind is certain to be the city assessor -  why leave the office when structure changes over time have been documented online right there before you?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Ultimate Preparedness - Luxury Bunker

Last Friday's post pointed out the importance of events like the upcoming PrepareAthon for helping the nation get better prepared to deal with disasters. Along those lines, a New York television station recently featured a story about the extremes some individuals are taking to get prepared for whatever may come their way. For a mere $200,000, a family of four can reserve space in an underground survival complex with swimming pool, health club, learning center, farm and much more. Links below for details and videos:

(CBS New York, April 24, 2014)

Comment: Well, obviously there are folks out there that are very committed to being prepared. I can't say I agree with the extreme nature of this approach, but I applaud them nonetheless for taking the issue seriously. After all, if going underground was a good enough plan for the Federal government during the Cold War, it can't be that far off now.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Thinking About the "Why" Behind PrepareAthon

On Wednesday, April 30, 2014, the nation will conduct it's first PrepareAthon. As described on the White House website announcing the event, intent is as follows:
...a community-based campaign to build a more secure and resilient nation by getting people to understand what disasters could happen in their communities and to take action to increase their preparedness. Actions include signing up for mobile alerts and warnings, holding a preparedness discussion to emphasize the steps people should take to be ready should a disaster occur, and conducting a drill so people are familiar with what to do beforehand.
In support, FEMA has set up an outreach website which includes resources that participants can use to be part of the disaster preparedness solution. You can find it here.

OK, all well and good. Through these efforts the public pitch is about as good as it gets when trying to get John Q. Public off the couch and into the participation mode. But for those who would like to reflect on the "Why" behind such efforts, a few thoughts.

As I have mentioned several times before on this blog, disasters have become more impactful as time goes by for several reasons, not the least of which is demographics. In the 150-year snap-shot shown in the lead graphic, the United States has gone from being a thinly populated, rural, agrarian nation to one that is now the world's third most populous, heavily dependent on infrastructure, and densely populated in areas where disasters tend to happen (e.g. Florida and California ). Indeed, the extent to which this dramatic change has occurred is probably best related using a 1848 pre-Gold Rush statistic from California. Non-native population of the San Francisco Bay area - 453; entire state population - 10,000. (You can watch 220 years of U.S. population change here.).

Now consider the map below where state economies have been matched to foreign countries  - it's the economic reality of a disaster in the United States. No matter what state it occurs in, it would be a globally significant event if it were to occur within the boundaries of another country elsewhere on the planet. (An interactive version of the map can be found here.)

Thus, efforts like PrepareAthon may seem dry and unexciting - but they are essential to reality that is now the United States. The better prepared we are as neighbors, the better prepared we are as a nation.

Have a Great Weekend - Getting Prepared!

Graphic credit:
U.S. Population Trend: author
State Economies: The Economist

Thursday, April 24, 2014

NYPD's Twitter Debacle

In the Lessons Learned category, the New York Police Department (NYPD) is dealing with a social media disaster after a well intentioned plan to use Twitter to portray the Department in a good light turned into something altogether different.  After #myNYPD was offered on Tuesday as a way for citizens to provide feel-good photos of the NYPD, less than flattering photos soon filled the hashtag and the Department has been in damage control ever since. From the flood of articles across the nation, a select few below: 

(Washington Post, April 23, 2014)

(NBC News, April 23, 2014)

Comment: This one is really tough, unfortunate, and without a clear way forward as long as the structure of Twitter gives everyone - brilliant and not so - a level playing field to speak to the world. However, one would hope that at least in a disaster the dynamics would change and Twitter would be available as a backup two-way form of communication with the Emergency Services Sector (ESS). But again, unfortunately, if the Atlanta Police Department's experience during the January 2014 snow storm is any example, the reality is "marginal" at best. So to my simple way of thinking - two Lessons Learned:
1.) Twitter is a great way to broadcast a message. Beyond that, the ESS will have to take its chances with everyone else when inviting participation. The potential downside is significant.
2.) Being a "we've got more laws than we need" kind of guy, this one is hard to suggest. But, just like there are laws against using the current standard of communication to report an emergency - a telephone call to 9-1-1, it will probably take the same and a whole bunch of public outreach before Twitter will be workable for effectively communicating with response organizations. A point probably made moot by the impending activation of Text-to-911.

Photo Credit: NYPD 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

FirstNet Update

It's been a while since we last checked in on FirstNet (First Responder Network Authority), the $7.0 billion Federal effort to give the Emergency Services Sector a dedicated nationwide interoperable broadband network. Thankfully, Government Technology recently published an article that does a solid job of updating situation. Details below:

(Government Technology, April 17, 2014)

Comment: Don't miss the interactive map and related information available using the right inset mid-way down the article. It shows what happened to $400 million in related pilot program grants - a head scratcher that has left me revisiting Sheriff Fitzgerald's comments from last spring. You can read about Charlotte's rejection here, and the Bay Area Regional Interoperable Communications Systems Authority (BayRICS) rejection here.

Graphic credit: FirstNet

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Facebook Joins the Tracking Debate

In case you've been longing for the day when Facebook could track your location and that of your Friends (whether on or off), I've got some great news. Your wish just came true! Details below:

(Digits, April 17, 2014)

Comment: I'll take a pass on this one - and keep my privacy.

Graphic credit: Facebook

Monday, April 21, 2014

NSGIC Midyear Report Highlights Federal Geospatial Failures

You're in a bad spot when the normally low-key National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) examines four areas of geospatial enterprise and then opines that Federal efforts are sorely lacking. Unfortunately, all four topics considered have an Emergency Services Sector (ESS) component to them, with the fourth point of examination devoted entirely to the subject. Read for yourself:

(NSGIC, April 1, 2014)

Comment: First off, massive kudos to NSGIC for this bold, thoughtful consideration of the issues.  Second, I'll cut to the chase with what the report says to me. With regard to the ESS - DHS, FEMAUSGS and the rest of the Federal Interagency - your geospatial programs are by and large a mess and aren't aligned with the needs of the nation. Beltway bandit contractors selling the latest and greatest top-down military-mind-set collection schemes have completely derailed the reality of working inside the borders of the United States. Instead of collection (e.g. fusion centers, et al.) - it's going to require funding and focus on grass roots COLLABORATION if you are going to put the train back on the tracks! A point I've been harping on for years:

(GITA, May 1, 2010)

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Globe of Miracles: The Ultimate Easter Egg

Well, since it’s Easter weekend, what do you say we do something entirely different? Instead of reflecting on events that didn’t turn out so hot, let’s do it the other way around. Let’s give consideration to some random miracles – and you get an Easter egg hunt to boot.  So before clicking a link below, see if you can figure out what Emergency Services Sector related miracle happened at the respective place numbered above. (Please note, in an effort to spread around the “eggs”, U.S. Coast Guard Search and Rescue events have been excluded from this review – you can read about their top ten here.)

10. Nigeria

I Truly Hope You Have a Miraculous Weekend!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Business of Drones: Minnesota

As most readers are aware, commercial use of drones in the United States will begin late next year. Many are seeing this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to get in on what will be the equivalent of a California Gold Rush in the geospatial industry. More than a few in Minnesota want a piece of the action:

(Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 14, 2014)

Comment: Education will be key to understanding this transition and what it means for all parts of society, to include the Emergency Services Sector. To that end, a good place to start would be at an upcoming forum hosted by the University of Minnesota. Details below:

  • What: Preparing for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in Minnesota
  • When: Wednesday, April 30, 2014, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. 
  • WhereContinuing Education and Conference Center, Room 135A/C, University of Minnesota, 1890 Buford Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108
  • Cost: $75
  • Registration Deadline: April 24, 2014
  • More: Event Link

Graphic credit:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

HAZUS Annual Conference: August 4–6, 2014

"Translating Risk Assessment into Resilience and Policy" will be the theme for the 7th annual HAZUS User Conference, to be held in Indianapolis, Indiana in early August. Highlights for this event which focuses on bringing together HAZUS users to share "success stories, best practices, lessons learned, recent research, and workshops and discussions on HAZUS topics of interest," can be found below:

  • What: 7th Annual Hazus User Conference
  • When: August 4–6, 2014
  • Where: Indiana Government Center South, 302 W. Washington St. Indianapolis, Indiana 46204
  • Cost: Registration is free and open to the public, however space is limited to 350 attendees.
  • Registration Deadline: July 23rd, 2014, at website link below
  • Abstract Deadline: June 1st, 2014, sent to Dave Coats at

More information at the links below:
(FEMA Bulletin, April 10, 2014)

Comment: A great event hosted by Kevin Mickey and the always rock-solid folks at the Polis Center, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. If HAZUS is in your past, present or future, don't miss it! 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

GIS for Airport Emergency Management

While doing research I occasionally come across a resource that I missed as the clock moved forward. Such is the case with a collection of informational items on the use of GIS for Emergency Management at airports which was released last year by the National Academies. Here's the description: 
ACRP Report 88: Guidebook on Integrating GIS in Emergency Management at airports consists of a guidebook and a CD with worksheets to help airports identify needs and assess current capabilities with respect to using geographical information systems (GIS) in emergency management (EM). The information collected in the worksheets provided become the backbone of a GIS-EM integration plan. A PowerPoint presentation (available on theTRB website by searching for ACRP Report 88) outlines the benefits of integrating GIS into EM and can be used when presenting those benefits to stakeholders.
And the backgrounder: 
A geographic information system (GIS) can be a productive tool to enhance EM and significantly reduce the gap in information flow and accuracy. For example, several airports have airport-specific assets mapped in various GIS layers including the following:
  • Runways;
  • Gates;
  • Terminals and buildings;
  • Roads and parking;
  • Power stations and utility lines;
  • Storage facilities;
  • Fire suppression and alarm system components;
  • IT infrastructure, location of on-site staging areas; and
  • Other items, such as lease space/tenant information.
These assets and their associated information can be key components to modern day EM operations.
You can download the guidebook and more at the link below:

(Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, March, 2013)

Comment: As infrastructure goes, transportation is as key as it gets. This point is especially true when it comes to aviation. Although the vast majority of U.S. airports have very well developed emergency response plans that have been honed during the past century of aviation in this country, it is noteworthy that the National Academies is prodding the greater community to rethink their planning based on what GIS can add to the equation. Nice!

Related side note - As ongoing encouragement on the subject matter in general, the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies will be hosting a webinar entitled: Emergency and Disaster Preparedness: Cooperation and Coordination for Effective Response on June 18th, between 2:00 - 3:30 PM EDT. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

One Day Only to Buy Google Glass - April 15th

If you're one of those folks who just can't wait for the latest and greatest whatever, here's your chance at what the pitch man on TV would say is a "limited time, first-come-first-serve" chance to own Google Glass. They aren't kidding either - one day - April 15th, starting at 8AM CDT. Provided you have $1500 laying around that you don't know what to do with, here are the details:

(The Verge, April 10, 2014)

Comment: No one is ever going to accuse the crew at Google of being a bunch of dummies. With the significant push-back they've experienced from the public after a small number of "Explorers" began wearing Google Glass early last year, shrewd move on their part dribbling out a few more pairs, and then seeing where things go from there. I guess you could say Google has vision...

Photo credit:

Friday, April 11, 2014

Flip-side Friday: Answering the Call

As any seasoned reader of this blog knows, at times I can be somewhat harsh with my comments about the Emergency Services Sector and its occasional misuse of geospatial and related technologies. Although that approach might make it appear I think members of the ESS aren't doing their jobs, truth is, I just think they need more help. Proof below:

(Odd News, March 28, 2014)

(WTOP Local News, March 25, 2014)

(WTSP News, February 26, 2014)

Hope You Have a Brilliant Weekend!

Photo Credit:


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Satellites and Sensors Deployed to Save Pompeii

In what may end up being the ultimate example of the emergency management cycle in action, Italian aerospace and defense company Finmeccanica is donating $2.3 million of satellite and sensor capabilities to help save the Roman ruins at Pompeii. Through an agreement with the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities (MiBACT), the company will donate its services as part of a group that will be developing collaborative answers for saving the UNESCO World Heritage site. According to the corporate news release, efforts will initially focus on three areas:

  • Risks of hydrogeological instability,
  • Operational management of the site, and
  • Constructions and structure diagnoses.

More below:

(CTV News, April 5, 2014)

(Finmeccanica News Release, April 3, 2014)

Comment: Very cool - satellites and sensors will be used to hold off a disaster for a town that experienced a different disaster nearly 2,000 years ago! Learn more about the need for this type of effort by clicking here.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

HealthMap - Worldwide Public Health Situational Awareness

With ebola now established in at least four countries on the western shore of Africa, and the CDC providing updates on a regular basis, offered for your consideration and awareness is HealthMap. As described on its website, HealthMap is:
...a team of researchers, epidemiologists and software developers at Boston Children's Hospital founded in 2006, is an established global leader in utilizing online informal sources for disease outbreak monitoring and real-time surveillance of emerging public health threats. The freely available Web site '' and mobile app 'Outbreaks Near Me' deliver real-time intelligence on a broad range of emerging infectious diseases for a diverse audience including libraries, local health departments, governments, and international travelers. HealthMap brings together disparate data sources, including online news aggregators, eyewitness reports, expert-curated discussions and validated official reports, to achieve a unified and comprehensive view of the current global state of infectious diseases and their effect on human and animal health. Through an automated process, updating 24/7/365, the system monitors, organizes, integrates, filters, visualizes and disseminates online information about emerging diseases in nine languages, facilitating early detection of global public health threats.
To give it a whirl and learn more, please use the video and site links below:

Video Direct LinkHealthMap

Comment: HealthMap isn't perfect - but it's an important effort for at least two reasons:
1.) It's a first step toward deliver of real time understanding of the Public Health situation around the world, and
2.) To the degree that it can, it offers granularity by reporting local developments at the lowest level publicly available.
Kudos to Boston Children's Hospital and its sponsors for making this effort a reality.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"Pay-By-the-Mile" Car Insurance Spreads to Illinois

In March, West Coast based MetroMile announced they would be expanding operations outside that region for the first time by making their "pay-by-the-mile" car insurance product available in Illinois. By plugging in the company's free Metronome data collection/GPS/transmitter device into a vehicle’s OBD-II port, MetroMile servers receive a data stream that includes a history of vehicle location and the number of miles driven. Information which is then used to set rates. A free smartphone app is also available which allows drivers to monitor their driving behavior. More below:

(PR Newswire, March 11, 2014)

(Bloomberg TV, 4:36 Video, January 2, 2014)

Comment: It's amazing, don't you think. Tons of folks are up in arms about potential cell phone tracking, but as soon as the calculus changes to saving money (using a similar approach), and/or "opt-in" is clearly a conscious decision, objections seem to disappear. Perhaps a point worthy of consideration for those currently in hot water over tracking issues.

Picture credit:

Monday, April 7, 2014

Faulty GIS Data Results in San Bruno Blast Criminal Charges

Prior to last week, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) was facing a California Public Utilities Commission fine that reportedly could go as high as $4.0 BILLION, and had already dished out at least $635 million to settle various victim lawsuits from the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion of September 2010. Then on Tuesday, April 1, 2014, came the criminal charges and the very real threat that part of the behemoth utility could end up in receivership. Dead center in the middle of all this: faulty GIS data. Related story links below trace the history of this tragedy: 

(, February 13, 2011)

(SFGate, July 31, 2012)
(San Jose Mercury News, April 1, 2014)

Comment: Let's see - on top of the $2.7 BILLION the company has reportedly spent repairing problems identified post incident, the public relations nightmare, and an administrative and law suit bill that could check in at just under $5.0 BILLION, there is the tragic loss of life and the untold suffering caused by this disaster. Is there anybody out there that would like to suggest "GIS is really not that important?" Didn't think so. And while this incident happened in the private sector, the lessons learned are just as applicable to the public sector where - unfortunately - the tax payer is the one who ultimately ends up paying for managerial incompetence in the world of geospatial information.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Filing Cabinet Friday: More (Wild) Drone Stories

It's been a while since Amazon fessed up that they were planning to develop a fleet of delivery drones. So what'ya say we dig through the filing cabinet and see if there have been any other equally wild drone stories in the time since? Undoubtedly - you know the answer before this gets going:  

XXXL Transformer -  A truck that's a helicopter, and a helicopter that's a truck - it's a crazy mixed up world when reality mimics a toy.  Better yet, in March the "Big and Tall Man" version was joined by a "Mini-Me" that can be used for disaster relief. Developments that could only take place in California:

(Popular Science, January 10, 2014)

Parched CheeseHead - Growing up in Wisconsin, a restock of my beer locker would be a high priority when it comes to disaster relief items appropriate for drone delivery. However, apparently there is no sense of humor in my adopted state of Minnesota:

Video Direct Link: Lakemaid Beer Delivery Drone
(CNN, February 3, 2014)

Pedal Power - Meanwhile, over in Michigan, it looks like flowers are entitled to heavenly delivery. A situation which is not entirely unexpected in the state that has the high flying apple blossom as its state flower:

(CBS News Detroit, March 10, 2014)

They Didn't Say Anything About Fishing!OK, so you can't use a drone for hunting in Alaska. But, does that mean it's also illegal to troll for bears?:

(Anchorage Daily News, March 23, 2014)

Titanic Improvement - Looks like our friends to the North are serious about icebergs. So much so that using a drone to hunt them - is legal!:

Video Direct LinkFednav Drones

(Fednav News Release, March 25, 2014)

Wishing You a High Flying, But Safe and Enjoyable Weekend!

XXXL Transformer: Advance Tactics 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

More Underutilized Disaster Mapping - This Time Landslide Hazards

The Associated Press wrote the story, now nearly every major news organization in the U.S. is running it. Another disaster where mapping was underutilized. This time, questions are being asked in the wake of the Oso, Washington mudslide

(U.S. News and World Report, March 30, 2014)

Comment: Yup - until the nation's Emergency Services Sector and those who write their funding checks think about geospatial technologies in the same vein as traditional first responder personnel and equipment, more lives are going to be lost needlessly.

Picture: Wikipedia

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

FBI Investigating FEMA - Over Maps

It's not a place where you want to be. First NBC News does a three-part investigative series on you, and then the FBI comes knocking on your door.  But, unfortunately for FEMA, that's the pickle that they're in. Point of interest: Flood risk maps. More below:

(NBC News, March 27, 2014)

Comment: Right now I'm adverse to the temptation to pile on. Let's see where the facts come in - and revisit the issue after that.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Registration for FOSS4G 2014 is Now Open!

It's been ten years since a handful of visionaries gathered to discuss how to collaboratively develop geospatial software that would be held in trust and free for others to use. In the decade since that first meeting of what has become the annual Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial (FOSS4G) Conference, those development efforts have grown into a force to be reckoned with.  Indeed, units of government have become increasingly interested in FOSS4G as awareness has grown that it is an incredible value. Practitioners of this belief include geospatial heavyweights like the Department of DefenseNational Geospatial Intelligence Agency and NASA. And in many cases, efforts to develop and promote FOSS4G have ultimately benefited the Emergency Services Sector (ESS). As an example, over the past couple of years this blog has featured posts about FOSS4G such as:

So against that backdrop, I think it's important to pass along that registration for the Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial 2014 Conference officially opens today. The conference will be an unparalleled opportunity to learn, as well as meet developers from a unique community who are open to building products the ESS truly needs. 

Here are the details:

What: Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial  (FOSS4G) 2014 Conference
When: September 8th - 13th, 2014
WhereOregon Convention Center, Portland Oregon
Abstract Cutoff: April 15, 2014

CommentSign up early because there will only be so many opportunities to get in the door  - and the crowd will be there from around the world!